YORK Settlement Community Players return from lockdown mothballing with Harri Marshall’s production of The 39 Steps at Theatre@41 Monkgate, York, from November 11 to 14.
Patrick Barlow’s two-time Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning comedy thriller – a hit in the West End, on Broadway and on multiple tours – asks the cast to play more than 150 characters in recreating an against-the-odds combination of both John Buchan’s 1915 novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film.
The task is to tell the fast-moving story of Richard Hannay, a man with a boring life, who meets a woman with a thick foreign accent who claims to be a spy. When he takes her home, she is murdered.
Soon, a mysterious organisation called “The 39 Steps” is hot on the man’s trail in a nationwide hunt that climaxes in a death-defying finale in Barlow’s adaptation, based on an original concept by North Country Theatre’s Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble.
Aran MacRae, a professional actor who returned home to York in lockdown after working on the London musical theatre stage and on tour overseas, will play Richard Hannay, fresh from Aran being one of the sonneteers for York Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021.
Sanna Buck will take the roles of Annabella Schmidt, Pamela and Margaret, while Stephen Wright, Andrew Isherwood, Jim Paterson, Matt Pattison, Matt Lomax and Dan Boyle will be The Clowns, whereas normally they are played by only two actors rushing around frantically trying to do most of the 150-plus characters.
York Settlement Community Players’ last live theatre production was Chekhov’s The Seagull at York Theatre Royal Studio in March 2020, when the run ended a week before the theatre went dark for the first pandemic lockdown. Since then, the company has hosted play readings and social meet-ups online.
The 39 Steps will be Harri Mashall’s second production for YSCP, after directing Nanci Harris’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes at Theatre@41 in the autumn of 2019.
“For the past eighteen months, the UK feels like it’s lost its theatrical mojo, which is why I’m excited to bring this light, wickedly funny play to Theatre@41 to share in the love and laughter and to showcase some brilliantly inventive theatre,” says Harri, who identifies as a deaf director.
“Rehearsals are going very well; we started at the deep end, plunging into the logistics of how to re-create those fabulous iconic scenes that made The 39 Steps famous when it debuted on the West End.
“This includes re-creating chase sequences on board the Flying Scotsman and a live on-stage plane crash.”
Harri adds: “I’m very lucky to be working with such a talented cast. Every single performer is a brilliant star in their own right. Their collective repertoire includes credits at the London Coliseum, York Theatre Royal, York Light Opera, the York Mystery Plays, Pick Me Up Theatre and previous successful York Settlement Community Players’ shows, such as The Cherry Orchard and The Red Shoes.”
This amateur production of The 39 Steps is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.
Tickets for the 7.30pm evening shows and 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday matinees in the John Cooper Studio are on sale at tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
YORK Shakespeare Project’s Sonnets At The Bar 2021 played to record attendances, surpassing the annual summer event’s previous peak by 190.
Running from July 30 to August 7 in YSP’s new Sonnets location of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre’s “secret garden”, in Blossom Street, York, Emile Knight’s production drew 428 people. The past best was 238.
Producer Maurice Crichton reflects: “We took a few chances with the weather and got through all 18 planned performances without a real downpour. I think we may well return to the same venue next year when the perils of Covid and pinging interdicts will hopefully be fully behind us.
“I was particularly pleased that we managed to involve three young men – Aran MacRae, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe – who all contributed to a very strong company bond. There’s something special about a group of players aged from 15 to 60 plus.”
Next up for York Shakespeare Project will be Leo Doulton’s production of Macbeth in October. Watch this space for more details to follow.
YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret location for its latest sonnet adventures, the “secret garden” of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York.
After several years of Sonnet Walks through the city streets and public gardens and the socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, last September, here come Sonnets At the Bar 2021, directed by Emilie Knight and produced by Maurice Crichton from tomorrow (30/7/2021) to August 7.
Emilie, who played a Covid Nurse in last year’s performances, has come up with the conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities, some of them outdoors in the garden on account of Covid, with the sonneteers either hosting classes or groups or attending them, all under the watchful eye of the caretaker, Mr Barrowclough.
In YSP’s now time-honoured fashion, each character has a sonnet to set up, the pairing of character and sonnet opening up some unknown sonnets in an accessible way or giving well-known ones a new angle.
Here, Emilie answers Charles Hutchinson’s questions on plays versus sonnets, topical characters, outdoor performances, new sonneteers and Covid times.
What draws you to Shakespeare’s sonnets by comparison with his plays?
“The sonnets provide an instant hit of the Bard’s language and turn of phrase, and while you may need to read it over and for some do a little research, when you do get it, it’s striking. Each one tells a story or even more than one as we’ve explored with the Sonnets productions.”
What struck you most about performing the topical Covid Nurse role in last September’s production?
“Although there was a touch of humour in the role, I found playing the nurse very moving. I have no healthcare experience and felt a tinge of imposter syndrome, especially when I was leafleting in Goodramgate between performances in my scrubs and people came up to me assuming I was campaigning for the NHS, which in a way, I was.”
What did you learn from that outdoor staging – in one location, rather than moving around York’s streets and gardens – that you can bring to this summer’s production?
“There was a stillness in Holy Trinity churchyard – apart from the restaurant kitchen noises that punctuated some of the performances – that enabled the audience to really focus on the character and their sonnet without distractions from passers-by and traffic.
“I was keen to replicate that while introducing the movement that the sonnet walks allows. In this case, the characters are moving through the space rather than the audience moving through York.”
What do you see as the director’s role in this production?
“Very much as an introducer of ideas. I had a strong image of how I wanted the production to look and feel, but from my own experience as a sonneteer also knew that the organic nature of this sonnets concept relies on the ideas we have and sometimes accidental discoveries we make throughout the rehearsal process.
“It’s also been my role to ensure that everyone has fun. We’re a community group with jobs, studying, family responsibilities to deal with, all coming together because we love theatre and never more so than now after the challenging times we’ve all experienced.”
How did you settle on this year’s Shakespeare Sonnets conceit of the Bar Convent being in use for all sorts of community centre-type activities?
“Within hours of finishing our last production, I’d started mulling over possible future themes, and by the beginning of this year, it struck me that through the pandemic our hobbies and community activities had been completely turned upside down.
“I asked myself, ‘how is it going to feel to return to gatherings in person after doing everything online for so long?’ and whether there would be any hesitation in doing so. We heard a lot about how desperate everyone was to ‘get back to normal’, but I did wonder whether some people would prefer it to stay as it is, and that’s when Harry Barrowclough popped into my head.
“Then I thought about all the different things that go on in community centres that, unless you’re involved in yourself, you barely give any thought to. A major consideration in the early days was where to stage the production and, given the community connection and the fabulous garden, theBar Convent seemed a perfect fit and it has been.
How did you decide on the characters? Did you give the actors leeway to create them or did you create the characters first and then let them work on them?
“I had very clear characters in mind and drafted a working script as a starting point. But you never know who’s going to audition; through that process I was able to identify some who fitted a particular character exactly as I thought of them or who delivered something completely different from how I imagined it and it just worked.
“From day one of rehearsals, I invited the sonneteers to play with their character and dialogue and try out different ideas until we settled on the perfect fit. For me, the joy of the YSP Sonnets programme is very much that it is a creative process for everyone involved and together we develop something very special.”
Five “new” sonnets feature among the selection. What made you choose those ones?
“I chose all the sonnets first with a few extra, without reference to which had been used before, and by a happy coincidence there were new ones. Some I chose for their direct relevance to a character and situation I had in mind; others I simply found very beautiful and knew I wanted to use them and so devised a way to make them suit.”
How have you rehearsed the sonnets in Covid times?
“We were very fortunate that the Bar Convent embraced our production from the beginning and made it possible for us to rehearse in the space, which, being open air, made everything instantly more Covid safe.
“We’ve also been lucky with the weather…so far! Of course, we’ve had the ongoing challenge of cast members being ‘pinged’ at any moment and have all been committed to keeping each other safe and will continue to do so for ourselves, the Bar Convent community and our audiences.”
Among the cast, you have selected four actors new to York Shakespeare Project. Who are they?
“Lindsay Waller Wilkinson, Aran MacRae, Luke Tearney and Josh Roe. I’m so excited about this production and very proud of all the work everyone has put in, most especially the youngsters.
“With the cuts in arts education generally and worryingly more to come, and the reduced opportunities for our youth to explore the creative arts, it’s been very rewarding to have been able to offer this chance for them to shine.”
York Shakespeare Project presents Sonnets At The Bar 2021, Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, Blossom Street, York, tomorrow (30/7/2021) until August 7; no show on August 2. Performances: 6pm and 7.30pm nightly, plus 4.15pm on both Saturdays. Tickets: 01904 623568, at yorkthreatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the YTR box office.
YORK Shakespeare Project has a not-so-secret new location for its latest sonnet adventures, the secret garden of the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre, in Blossom Street, York.
After several years of Sonnet Walks through the city streets and public gardens and the socially distanced Sit-down Sonnets at Holy Trinity churchyard, in Goodramgate, last September, here come Sonnets At the Bar 2021, directed by Emilie Knight and produced by Maurice Crichton, from July 30 to August 7.
“Emilie Knight and I have struck up a good working relationship at the Bar Convent with James Foster, the chief operations officer,” says Maurice. “They have a lovely ‘secret’ garden with plenty of room and a surprisingly quiet, voice-friendly acoustic for a space so close to one of the busiest road junctions in the city.”
Looking forward to mounting this summer’s spree of Shakespeare sonnets, Maurice enthuses: “York Shakespeare Project wants to involve people in a close engagement with Shakespeare’s writing, and as Jonathan Bate says in every Royal Shakespeare Company edition of the plays: ‘The best way to understand a Shakespeare play is to see it or ideally to participate in it’.
“Emilie is setting up auditions ‘open to all’ and we want to get the word out as widely as possible to try to involve some new faces in this format.”
Those auditions will be held at the Bar Convent onJune 4 from 5pm and June 5 from 10am. Anyone wanting to arrange an audition time should contact Emilie at firstname.lastname@example.org, putting ‘Sonnets’ in the heading and indicating a preference of day and time.
“I’ll provide details of everything you need to prepare when confirming your audition time,” says Emilie, who performed in last year’s Sit-down Sonnets in role of Covid Nurse at Holy Trinity Church.
Outlining the format of this summer’s performances, she explains: “We’ll be bringing our audience into the secret garden of the Bar Convent to witness the comings and goings of the ordinary people of York as they pursue their hobbies and interests at a community venue.
“The characters cover a range of age and gender and a couple also require some musical ability (instrument or vocal). We welcome all levels of experience, as commitment, enthusiasm and a certain amount of flexibility will determine the success of this production. And, we want you to have fun!”
Rehearsals will be held outdoors, initially in West Bank Park, Holgate, and then at the Bar Convent.
The eight evening performances from July 30 to August 7 – no show on Monday, August 2 – will be complemented by late-afternoon matinees on both Saturdays. “We’re going to include a drink in the ticket price and this will be provided by the heritage centre’s café,” says Maurice.